Goldenrod vs. Ragweed: Don’t Blame an Innocent Bystander for Your Seasonal Allergies!

Late summer – with its sunshine, abundance of harvest-ready produce, flowers, and extra fun squeezed into evenings, weekends & precious days off – is marred for many by the return of hayfever. Allergy symptoms are seriously blech, to use a technical term. If you are still suffering, ask me about natural solutions for your allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies, or read more here.

 

And in the meantime, enjoy the beauty of late summer flowers without fear of sneezing by learning which plant is really to blame.

 

This is goldenrod (Solidago canadensis and other Solidago spp), a beautiful yellow flower offering great herbal medicine.

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod’s aerial parts are used as a tonic for mucus membranes, meaning it is often found in herbal formulas for such things as sinus infections, bladder infections, and even to treat seasonal allergies! It has been used historically as a kidney tonic, and also for the skin. Note the leaf shape to help identify the plant before it flowers. Note, also, that it grows fairly tall on a single stalk. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be airborne – rather, it is pollinated by insects. Thus it is an innocent bystander, falsely accused as far as seasonal allergies are concerned.

 

 

This is ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya).

Ragweed in bloom

Ragweed in bloom

It has less showy green flowers, and a very different leaf shape. Ragweed pollen is lighter and IS airborne. If you suffer from hayfever, ragweed is not your friend! While ragweed and goldenrod do grow in similar environments, ragweed is usually shorter than its pretty medicinal companion, and can be differentiated long before flowers and pollen based on the leaves. With this information, you can weed it out of your yard to decrease your local pollen exposure.

 

 

 

Here is another picture of ragweed that I took, this time with goldenrod in the background to drive home the innocent bystander point:

Ragweed (foreground) vs Goldenrod

Ragweed in the foreground, getting goldenrod into trouble

 

 

 

And here is a side-by-side from the folks at The New England Academy of Herbal Medicine:

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

Ragweed vs Goldenrod

 

 

 

So, now you know, right? Ragweed has pretty leaves and small flowers with light pollen that causes “blech” symptoms. Goldenrod has pretty flowers with heavy, innocent pollen, and long skinny leaves off a tall main stalk. Spread the word: Enjoy goldenrod’s lovely late summer blooms, and help stop the false accusations!

Natural Solutions for Seasonal Allergies

Good news: you can manage your seasonal allergies naturally!

Naturopathic News: there isn’t one natural medicine that works for everyone.

 

What’s good for allergies? Seasonal allergy symptoms occur when the level of inflammation in our car-exhaust590_284x213bodies reaches a certain threshold. For some, this is purely due to extreme sensitivity to pollens, along with dust, animal dander, etc. For others, it relates also to the level of smog they are breathing in, the amount of stress they are currently swimming in, and any foods they might be eating that aren’t a good fit for their systems.

Personally, my “seasonal allergy” symptoms go away when I go camping, as this is a happy, no-stress place for me, and there is way less smog in the back woods. (Luckily, pine pollen is not a trigger for me!). Others notice that when they are in other provinces, even in a city, their symptoms vanish. This can be related to the change in local pollens, the air quality, decreased stress of vacation, or any combination of these things.

 

allergies_flowers&tissueOn a physiological level, seasonal allergy symptoms relate to increased histamine release in the upper respiratory system. Thus, many people find relief by using natural antihistamines such as quercetin and nettles. For others, though, the inflammation needs to be stopped at a different point in the inflammatory pathway. A common intervention point for seasonal allergies is the liver. Using herbs such as milk thistle and antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine for liver support can vanish allergy symptoms completely for a subset of people.

Other people’s symptoms respond immediately to a targeted homeopathic remedy, or to gemmotherapy, while still other people find acupuncture gives them the best relief.

While there are some common prescriptions for allergy relief, the right fit for you will be as unique as your life situation, your history, and your current physiology.

My advice? Don’t guess, and don’t suffer needlessly. Book a consult to get your body ready for allergy season, sneeze & sniffle-free.

PMS Prevention Plan: 10 Tips For a Happy Menstrual Cycle

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND


Umm, happy? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? No, no it is entirely possible and reasonable. Read on. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is not inevitable or unavoidable. PMS is common, but it is not “normal”.
 
Did you know that PMS can include over 100-300 different symptoms? While mood changes like anxiety, depression, irritability and lability (moodiness) are the most recognized, other common symptoms include breast pain or swelling, bloating, bowel changes (e.g. constipation, diarrhea), insomnia, headaches, migraines, food cravings, acne, back pain, fluid retention in the legs, and fatigue. For some people, PMS takes the form of increased clumsiness and brain fog. For others, it means less vocal range (an issue if you are a professional vocalist!), or even seizures. Finally, many women notice that their immunity is decreased at this time of the month. It is a time when cold sores or genital herpes might erupt, when asthma symptoms may flare, or when a yeast infection could make itself known. It is considered PMS if the symptoms occur in a cyclical pattern, related to the menstrual cycle, over several months. Symptoms may begin at ovulation (around day 14), or 1-2 days before the period begins.
 
The majority of women will experience PMS symptoms at some point in their lives.
 
So, shouldn’t we all know how to stay healthy, happy and stable in the face of Premenstrual Syndrome?  

Here are my Top 10 Tips for PMS Prevention:

 

  1. Nourish yourself with food. Eat lots of vegetables, eat home-made, eat clean protein. Eat organic whenever possible (in this case because xenoestrogens in pesticides impact your hormone balance). Remember that organic junk food is still junk food. Enjoy your treats.

Careful with caffeine. Most of us have figured out the therapeutic power of good chocolate, and I won’t be the one to take this away, but caffeine does make breast tenderness worse, and it can destabilize mood and worsen digestive symptoms. Consider cutting down on coffee.

  1. Cut the sugar. Refined sugar and processed foods aggravate pain and mood issues, even though they seem like a good idea in the moment. (Except a bit of good, dark chocolate).

 

  1. Move your body. Regular movement of any kind is effective, but yoga stands out in its efficacy in the clinical trials.

 

  1. Increase target micronutrients with supplementation:
  • B6: especially helpful for mood symptoms, B6 is essential for the metabolism of estrogen. Take it as part of a good-quality B complex.
  • Cal-Mag: Both calcium and magnesium are proven effective for managing premenstrual symptoms, from fatigue to depression to cramps. Consider supplementing with one or both.
  • Fish Oil (especially EPA): while more researched for other health concerns, fish oil is known to be effective for mood balance, and for shifting physiology to decrease inflammation. Thus, it is a good choice for certain types of PMS.

 
5. Work with an herbal ally or few

  • Herbs to consider for PMS include: St John’s Wort, Vitex agnus-castus, gingko, black cohosh, kava, motherwort, skullcap, passionflower. The specific herbs best for you will depend on your particular symptoms. Some people use combination formulas, while others see great results with only one or two herbs. Ask me for a personalized herbal prescription.

 

  1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Women with a regular sleep routine have more stable hormone levels than those whose sleep patterns are all over the place. Go to bed at the same time every night. For maximum benefit, go to sleep well before midnight, and sleep in total darkness (see melatonin, below).

 

  1. Increase your melatonin. You know how it feels like your hormones are crazy when you have PMS? Well, in fact the only hormonal difference scientists have found between women with severe PMS and controls is melatonin levels. That’s right, no estrogen excess or deficiency, no progesterone excess or deficiency. The other hormone issues are believed to stem from changes in hormone receptor sensitivity. But, this is still theory. In the meantime, you can increase your melatonin naturally:
  1. Sleep in complete darkness (blackout curtains, an eye mask if light is unavoidable)
  2. Start sleeping sooner. Melatonin production is higher before midnight.
  3. Ensure you give your body the building blocks. Pumpkin seed is a great source of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin. The reaction requires B6 (see above).
  4. Alternate nostril breathing can stimulate the pineal gland to increase melatonin production (and generally promotes calm when done before sleep).
  5. If you have been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), consider supplementing with melatonin. Start with 3 mg per day before bed. And, contact me for more (nonprescription) options.

 

  1. Honor the wisdom within you. If you are exhausted and feel irritated by anyone talking to you, maybe this is the time of the month to carve out a couple hours to curl up with a novel, or journal, rather than pushing yourself to maintain your usual pace. For those who experience intense shifts in mood, think of PMS as the time when the tide is out, and all the feelings and nagging thoughts that you can push down (under the water) the rest of the month are exposed. Sometimes PMS emotionality is just PMS, but often there are important nuggets of truth buried in the sad or mad or irritable state. Look for these truths and give them space at other times in the month. If the nagging thought is “this (job/relationship/etc.) doesn’t feel right”, then make space to explore that. Make changes. As things in your life shift in response to you listening to your inner voice, watch your PMS symptoms abate.

 

  1. Cultivate a happy microbial community:
  • Eat fermented or cultured foods regularly (e.g. unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kosher-style dill pickles).
  • Consider reseeding your flora with a quality probiotic supplement, especially if you have taken antibiotics.
  • (Good gut flora are associated with better mood, and good gut flora are also important for hormone balance)

 

  1. As always, I highly encourage you to seek out personalized naturopathic care to help map out the big picture, and tunnel down to the right supports for you. Constitutional homeopathy, acupuncture, flower essences, therapeutic nutrition and custom formulated herbal medicines can all offer incredible healing & resolution for PMS symptoms. With professional guidance and the advantage of an outside eye, meet your health goals faster, with less time lost to the contradictory information offered by Dr Google.

Contact me for information on becoming a client/patient.

“I drink milk for my bones”

 Dr Mahalia Freed ND, nutritional myth-buster

I regularly encounter the myth that we need dairy products for healthy bones. My clients tell me they don’t want to give up dairy, as osteoporosis runs in their family. Or, they tell me, “I don’t want to do that to my kids”.

Let me set the record straight: you don’t need milk products for healthy bones!

Adults don’t need dairy, kids don’t need dairy.

But, don’t I need calcium? Don’t my kids need calcium?

Yup. And many other minerals.

You don’t need milk products to get calcium!

As stated by researchers in a recent (July 2013) editorial in JAMA Paediatrics, “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to diet.”

But I thought I needed milk products for healthy bones!

Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared with those that do. Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults, according to a recent meta-analysis” (Ludwig D and Willett W. 2013).

Furthermore, “Milk consumption increases serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1, an anabolic hormone linked to prostate and other cancers” (ibid). Why increase cancer risk? Or the risk of type 1 diabetes, also associated with dairy intake?

Ludwig and Willett conclude: “For those with high quality diets (including green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and adequate protein), the nutritional benefits of high milk consumption may not outweigh the negative consequences.”

Milk, it doesn’t necessarily do your body good. You don’t need it, and neither do your kids.

More info on bones, calcium, and health:

What do I do for healthy bones?

Where (else) can I get calcium?

Healthy bones need which nutrients?

urban herbalism: nettle joy

Mahalia Freed, ND

I live in the city.

10 minutes by public transit and I am in the downtown core. There is a highway very close to my house. And also, there are green spaces, and there are wild plants. Medicinal, weedy, wild plants. The blessing of using medicine from the earth, the beauty of it, is that the medicines we need are very often right in our (metaphorical) backyards.

Today I harvested wild nettles. I truly love nettles. They are not only a medicine I prescribe often – for everything from seasonal allergies to low iron – but they are delicious and nutritious as food. Allergic to spring pollens? Nettle tea to the rescue! Pregnant? Nourish with nettles! Gathering this particular weed, then, brings me great joy.

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

 

By their sting, nettles teach us to be fully present, fully aware of our bodies in space. If your mind wanders, and your shirtsleeve doesn’t entirely cover your forearm, nettle will bring you back with a sting that lasts and lasts. I was reminded. Thank you, nettle. If you are thinking about gathering nettles yourself: wear long sleeves, long pants, and gardening gloves, and make sure to pull the gloves up over your sleeves!

 

Because I was harvesting near home in a well-used public park, I happily engaged in quite a bit of impromptu herbal education. I answered people’s friendly queries as to why I was choosing to pick a stinging weed with musings on potential recipes I could choose for dinner, and I expanded on some of nettle’s uses in addressing inflammation, seasonal allergies, pregnancy, and more. I learned from one woman passing by that she grew up eating nettles in India (different species, same idea), and another couple paused their workout to tell me about a raw nettle eating competition in England (don’t do it. Remember, it stings!)

 

transporting the urban nettle harvest

 

Wildcrafting guidelines teach that one should never harvest things that are endangered or rare in the area in question. Pick plants that grow abundantly, and then take no more than 30% of the stand in that place. But please, harvest only what you will use. Depending on the plant, a little may go a long way. Lucky for me and the other urban harvesters, nettle is prolific. I harvested nearly the maximum I could fit in my bike’s panniers, which in this patch was maybe 2%.

 

 

Drying Nettle

A Wildcrafting ND’s Office

While in the past I have preferred to dry herbs spread out on a screen, our current space doesn’t allow for this. Hanging herbs in bunches is another easy, reliable way to dry them in any (indoor, ventilated) space. I strung some twine across the bay window in my treatment room, and tied bunches of 5-9 stalks across it. When that row was full, I moved onto the hallway.

 

Prep Tip

Gather any loose leaves and put them aside for dinner. If the loose leaves don’t add up to enough for your pesto or soup or frittata or sauté plans, keep some stalks aside. Wearing your gloves (you always wear gloves when handling raw nettles!), grasp the stalk near the top and strip off the leaves from top to bottom. They should come off easily this way. Strip as many stalks as you & your crisper drawer need. If you aren’t using them all right away, store fresh nettles in the fridge in a plastic bag, like most produce.

 

Wild Nettle Pesto with Rice Linguini

Ingredients

  • ~5 cups fresh raw nettles
  • 2-4 cloves raw garlic, finely chopped or pressed (4 was intensely garlicky)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts (or sunflower seeds or almonds)
  • 1 tsp celtic sea salt, or to taste
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • Pasta of choice (I used organic brown rice “linguini-style” noodles, and made enough for two generous servings of pasta. We have pesto leftover)

 

Preparation

Nettle Pesto

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Wearing gloves, add your nettles to the water to blanch them. Simmer 1-3 minutes, then remove and drain off excess water. Reserve the nettle-blanching water to cook the pasta. Add pasta to the boiling water. While pasta is cooking, roughly chop your squeezed out nettles and measure them. You should have about 2 cups now. If not, adjust other ingredients as needed. Dump nettles into a food processor along with pressed garlic, olive oil, sea salt and nuts/seeds. Process until smooth-ish. Add lemon juice and process again. Taste it. Isn’t it delicious? Adjust seasonings as desired. I ran out of olive oil so I increased the nuts, and then had to add salt to balance out the bitterness in the walnuts. Delicious results, though!

 

Dump cooked, drained pasta into a big bowl, and toss with pesto to generously coat. Add more pesto. People never use enough pesto.

Top with whatever you fancy and have on hand.

Nettle Pesto Linguini with Grilled Chicken & Sun-dried Tomatoes

 

My choice today: chopped leftover grilled organic chicken breast and sliced sundried tomatoes. Would also work with other leftover meat, grilled veggies, marinated tofu.

 

I gathered weeds instead of going grocery shopping today, and I had a delightful day. I highly recommend taking a week-day afternoon off from your to-do list, and getting to know a local weed. And your neighbours 🙂

 

Happy Soup (aka Nettle & Fiddlehead Soup)

Happy Soup

Seriously, this is the happiest soup I’ve ever made or had the pleasure of consuming. There is no other way to describe it. Perhaps it is partially the virtuousness I feel, eating local, wildcrafted herbs & greens in season. Mostly, though, it is just a great, simple soup. Click here to learn more about nettles (and allergies), and here for more about fiddleheads.

Recipe

(Based on the suggestion of the Friendly Happy Guy from Forbes Wild Foods at Dufferin Grove Farmer’s Market)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound fresh local fiddleheads, soaked and rinsed in a bowl of water several times, ends cut off.
  • 1 heaping, packed colander full of fresh wild stinging nettles, stems removed (remember to wear your gloves to avoid the sting!). (Sorry, didn’t weigh the nettles)
  • 2 onions, chopped (plus green onion, or the green shoots growing off an old onion if that happens in your house)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2-4 cups stock (I used veggie stock)
  • Water
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Saute onions & garlic in olive oil until tender. Add water if necessary to prevent sticking. Add cleaned fiddleheads and continue sauteing. Add a bit of stock. Wait a minute or few. Add nettles. Pour stock over nettles, and add water to just barely cover the greens. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes, swirling/stirring to make sure nettles get wilted. About 10 minutes in, add the green onion. Add sea salt and maybe pepper. Blend. (I use a handblender, right into the hot soup in the pot).

Enjoy Happy Soup!

PS: some internet recipes for nettle soup swirl in cream at the end, but i really think this soup needs no enhancement.

Prenatal Vitamins: Do you have the right insurance?

By Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Why do you take a prenatal multivitamin?

Does it have everything you need to stay healthy during pregnancy? (No!)

Does it contain all the nutrients your baby needs for optimal growth? (No!)

Multivitamins are sometimes described as a supplement “insurance policy”. Do you have the right insurance?

People don’t question whether or not to take a prenatal multivitamin. Even those who wouldn’t think to take a vitamin when not pregnant or trying to conceive assume they should take a prenatal. The intention behind this is noble, if somewhat symptomatic of the health concerns I see in practice: when nurturing another life, people are way more responsible than they are for themselves alone. Riding this trend, I encourage you to use the motivation of pregnancy or pregnancy preparation to enhance your own health. I also encourage you to work with a practitioner to determine what nutrients YOUR body needs, and in what dose.

Fact: nutritional needs change during pregnancy.

You need more protein, more calories, and more of a variety of specific nutrients (for those of you who like the details, see chart below for an incomplete list of top nutrients).

Continue reading

Allergy Season & Nettles

by Mahalia Freed, ND

Allergy Season Tips

Hay fever (also known as seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis) is estimated to affect 10-20 % of the population in developed countries. Hay fever occurs when your immune system overreacts to airborne particles, most commonly the pollens of trees, grass, and ragweed. The unfortunately familiar list of symptoms includes runny & itchy nose, itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing and congestion. People who suffer from seasonal allergies are more likely to develop asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and other complications. Interestingly, there is also new research suggesting a link between seasonal allergies and depression. Naturopathic medicine offers a variety of treatments that can effectively manage symptoms and bring resolution, with individual plans drawing on nutrition, herbal medicine, constitutional homeopathy and acupuncture.  One of my personal favorite herbs is a star in treating allergies, and it is profiled below. Continue reading